x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The scenery is bizarre along recession's magic road

I've cracked it. I live on a magic road. The strangest stretch of concrete in the UAE.

I've cracked it. I live on a magic road. The strangest stretch of concrete in the UAE, where only strange things happen and even stranger people wander the streets. The most bizarre encounter of them all came last week when I noticed a small, rotund middle-aged Indian man loitering outside my apartment building fiddling with a pair of car keys. He seemed friendly enough, but then again this road is different, and you can easily fall prey to its trickery at any second.

As I strolled past him he smiled and muttered a barely audible question in my direction. Was he too embarrassed, or was the road somehow manipulating his vocal chords to fool unsuspecting passers-by? It was difficult to tell. "Excuse me?" he said as the road rapidly took control of his voice. "I have just purchased this Lexus and am not sure how to start it. Could you help me start it, please?" he said in a tone not dissimilar to Cher when she ridiculously decided to try to refresh her fading career by running her lyrics through a voice changer.

The road was in control and there was nothing he nor I could do. I stood there thinking about what he had just said, more dumbfounded than a goldfish living in the world's smallest glass bowl. He had just uttered one of the most ludicrous lines in human history and one of the craziest excuses I had ever heard. This man was the criminal equivalent of former ski jumper Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards, famously known as one of Olympic history's worst performing sportsmen. The problem was this guy would probably have no issues with launching himself off a death-defying icy slope with only one ski and no safety helmet.

After five minutes of being frozen to the spot, I politely mumbled my excuses and left the scene. Believe it or not, later that day another man accosted me. This time, however, he demanded I hand over Dh50. He wasn't trying to mug me, he simply said that he had no money and had not eaten anything for the past two days. Now I come from London, where tramps ooze odours deadlier than a blue cheese-wrapped skunk and vagrants have as much fashion sense as a pony-tailed early 1980s rock star being woken up at 6am following a wild night in Las Vegas. But this chancer appeared well-off, wearing a suit with a perfectly pressed shirt, a tie and spotless black brogues - his attire was more expensive than the garments I had on at the time.

The road had claimed another victim. But was there more to why all these sad sights were happening? Let's face it, these desperate times we're living in call for desperate measures. The worst example took place last week, when a temporary Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death by a mass of bargain-hunting consumers barging into a store near New York in the early hours of the morning. The early days of recessionary apocalypse have arrived, panic is ensuing and people are doing anything they can to spend less and save more. They are having it so bad these days that when you offer them even the slightest glimpse of a sale they transform into slobbering financial crisis-style zombies, losing the plot completely and acting in ways they have never acted before.

Things are starting to look pretty grim out there for those that have formed the spine of global economies for so long. But now even the Middle East's mid-incomers are suffering. Loans and mortgages are harder to find than a camel in a sand storm, cash is as a liquid as a pint of dirt in Death Valley and firings are now becoming more common than seeing a cavalcade of Toyota Pajeros on the Sheikh Zayed motorway. Over a thousand people in property and banking have lost their jobs in Dubai in the last two weeks alone, and slowdown will certainly claim more casualties in the coming months.

Expect more roads across the land to become like mine, where previously wealthy men make increasingly bizarre requests, birds fly backwards and the guard standing in front of your apartment building sounds more and more like the dwarf from the final episode of Twin Peaks. Batten down the hatches, we could be in for a rough ride. jbennett@thenational.ae